U. S. militia leader in the American Revolutionary War One of the Revolutionary War’s (1775-83) most colorful and legendary leaders, Francis Marion was instrumental in organizing guerrilla warfare against the British in the South. Born in South Carolina, the last of six children, Marion was a rather puny, sickly boy, who lived much of his youth in the port at Georgetown. Fascinated by the ships and sailor’s tales, he went to sea at 15. Though his maritime experience strengthened his health, he was lucky to survive a disastrous voyage to the Caribbean. Subsequently, he returned to his parents’ home and settled into farming. Near the end of the French and Indian War (1754-63), Marion began his army career with a local militia company. He first came under fire against the Cherokee, who were threatening South Carolina’s border settlements.
Marion supported the resistance movement (1764-75) to British imperial regulation and was elected to South Carolina’s first provincial congress, which met in Charleston in January 1775. When news came of the bloodshed at Battles of Lexington and Concord (April 19, 1775), the provincial congress agreed to raise three regiments from South Carolina. Because of his distinguished service against the Cherokee, Marion was appointed one of the captains of the Second Regiment, and by 1778 he was its commandant with the rank of lieutenant colonel. He served in the siege of Charleston (surrendered May 12, 1780). The British captured the Second Regiment, but Marion escaped and joined the Continental army that was heading south into the Carolinas.
Despite his standing as a Continental officer, Marion soon took command of a militia unit. The revolutionaries were at a disadvantage against South Carolina’s Loyalists and the invading British army, one of the most efficient fighting forces in the world. Marion knew his untrained and often temperamental band of volunteer farmers and shopkeepers could not compete in numbers or expertise in conventional warfare. Instead, Marion and his men utilized their intimate knowledge of the local geography and executed daring hit-and-run raids against the enemy to burn or destroy supplies and free revolutionary prisoners.
Marion’s tactics and habit of hiding in the numerous bogs and morasses of South Carolina soon earned him the nickname of “Swamp Fox.” By December 1780 Marion was promoted to brigadier general. His conduct at the battles of Parker’s Ferry (August 31, 1781) and Eutaw Springs (September 8, 1781) brought grateful thanks from the Second Continental Congress. As the British steadily lost control of South Carolina and civil government was reestablished, Marion’s precinct elected him to the state senate. When the British finally evacuated Charleston in December 1782, the militia disbanded and Marion returned to his plantation, which lay in ruins, leaving him destitute. In 1786, at age 54, Marion married his first cousin, Mary Esther Videau. He ended his political career after serving as a delegate to the state’s constitutional convention of 1790 and retired from militia service in 1794. He died without heirs at his Pond Bluff home on February 27, 1795.
Further reading: Robert D. Bass, Swamp Fox: The Life and Campaigns of General Francis Marion (Orangeburg,
S. C.: Sandpiper Store, 1974); Hugh F. Rankin, Francis Marion: The Swamp Fox (New York: Crowell, 1973).
—Rita M. Broyles